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Thought for the Day : Thursday 22 April

Thought for the Day by Revd Dr Angela Birkin (St Michael’s)

Readings: Deuteronomy 7:1-11 and Ephesians 2:11-22.

“And when the Lord your God gives them over to you and you defeat them, then you must utterly destroy them. Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy.” (Deuteronomy 7.2)

How tempting it is to ignore those parts of the Bible which make us uncomfortable, which give Richard Dawkins and others ammunition to use against faith and people of faith.

Deuteronomy is the fifth book of the Jewish Torah, and this morning’s passage is part of a speech given by Moses to the Israelites on the plains of Moab before they enter the promised land. Though the narrative is set early in the history of Israel, the book of Deuteronomy developed greatly during the exile in Babylon, and so a narrative of a people just about to enter the promised land was written for a people returning to the land from exile.

The seven nations named in chapter 7 verse 1 had long since ceased to exist at the time Deuteronomy was written, and they symbolised human forces that could not have been defeated unaided by God. On returning from exile the Israelites were to remember this and be faithful to God as a chosen people, rejecting idolatry and foreign gods.

How are we to understand a passage like this today?

We are certainly not to see it as evidence that the Bible promotes an ideology of genocide, or use it as evidence that the God of the New Testament is superior to the God of the Old Testament.
We are, however, to take seriously the warning against being seduced by the idols and gods of our own age of which there are many – money, power, consumerism, celebrity etc.

As Christians we are to read scripture through the lens of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and it is interesting that this passage from Deuteronomy is paired with a passage from the letter to the Ephesians which includes the words,

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” (Ephesians 2.13-14)

  • What idols pull us away from abundant life in Christ?
  • Are we working to tear down the dividing walls between people and communities or are we building them?
  • We are “no longer strangers and aliens” (Ephesians 2.19), but how do we treat others who come to our churches?

A prayer on Earth Day

Thursday 22nd April is Earth Day

Heavenly Father,
You have taught us, through your servant St Francis,
That all creation is your handiwork.
Grant us your grace that we may
Exercise wise stewardship of this Earth;
Tread lightly upon it;
And cherish its resources;
That our children may enjoy its riches, throughout all generations,
And your name be glorified through all that you have made.

Thought for the Day : Wednesday 21 April

Thought for the Day by Peter Hemming (St Chad’s)

Readings Deuteronomy 6: Ephesians 2:1-10.

From the NT reading – ‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.’

What’s all this about?

I can fix most things myself: I am pretty good at doing things. Can’t I fix my relationship with God myself?  If I work hard enough at doing what God asks of me, isn’t that OK? After all, Eph 2:10 reminds us that ‘we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do’.

Good works are a part of our vocation… but they are just a part.

There seem to be three key words here: Grace, Saved and Faith.

Grace. It may be OK and even right to do what God asks of me, but that just isn’t ‘enough’. We all need that element of God’s initiative, Grace: [God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.] It cost Jesus a lot, like everything!

Saved. There’s a word that doesn’t get a lot of approval these days. What am I saved from? Or what am I saved for? Maybe I’m saved from the worst excesses of the world’s influence on me and others – and for a ministry of telling others about our loving God/ Jesus/ the Holy Spirit.

Faith. Though I knew nothing about him, apart from his name from history lessons, before doing my Reader training some time ago, Anselm, whom the Church remembers today, is possibly best remembered for saying: “I believe in order that I may understand.” (not: understand in order to believe.)
[You can find other Anselm quotes here.]

Faith is the critical element of our lives. We believe first – and then go on to do or understand God’s work.

We understand life in the light of what we believe.

Please forgive me for a very personal view now. For those of you who know what has happened to me this year with a deteriorating tremor, a diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease, having to give up driving, and a pancreatic cancer, I have to say that I am grateful for my faith in the caring purposes of a Loving Heavenly Father, without which I’d be all at sea. To know that ‘because of what God has done in Jesus’, or because of what Jesus did in dying for us, I can have confidence in His loving purposes for me:
that, for me, is everything!

There’s a chorus that I remember from my youth – ‘I know who holds the future, and He’ll guide me with His hand; with God things don’t just happen, everything by Him is planned. So, as I face tomorrow, with its problems large and small; I’ll trust the God of miracles, give to Him my all’.

So now I can say: ‘By grace I have been saved through faith’. I can have confidence in my future.
I just have to trust. 

Will you trust our loving heavenly father too?

Thought for the Day : Tuesday 20 April

Thought for the Day by Kevin Ward (St Michael’s)

Readings: Deuteronomy 5:22-33 and Ephesians 1:15-23


Last week we commemorated the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s trial before the Holy Roman Emperor at the Diet of Worms, in 1521. Luther was accused of disturbing Christendom, of being a lawbreaker who challenged the very foundations of church and state. He ended his defence with these words:

“Unless I am convinced by scripture and plain reason,  I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. My conscience is captive to the Word of God.  Here I stand. I can do no other. So help me God.”

Luther, as a scrupulous monk, had punctiliously obeyed the law, filled with anxiety and dread at his  own failures. The crowd waiting at the foot of the mountain for Moses to return with the Ten Commandments, were filled with fear, because they sensed that no one can survive an encounter with a holy and righteous God. Luther was so tormented by his sense of unworthiness in the face of a stern and unrelenting divine legislator, that it led him to despair and mental torment.  As Emma wrote in yesterday’s Thought for the Day, ‘If we focus on the letter of the law, there will always be technicalities and pitfalls.’

It was only when Luther came to realise that the holy God is also the loving saviour, whose Son died for our sins, that he was rescued from this vicious cycle. God takes on himself our failures and inadequacies, our despair and hopelessness.  Paul urges us, in our second reading, to understand ‘the hope to which he has called you’, and the riches of Christ’s inheritance gained through his death for our sake and the new life obtained by Christ’s resurrection.

For Luther this discovery that we are not justified by our own obedience to the law, our own ‘good works’, but by faith in the work of Jesus Christ, came as an overwhelming relief.  Christ’s faithful life, his death on the cross for us and our salvation, and his resurrection to new life, enable  humanity  to fulfil the destiny which God has intended for us. We are not condemned inexorably to fail. We are freed  from the delusion, the  self-satisfaction and complacency, that, after all, we’re not too bad,  we live reasonably good lives. But, we’re also liberated  from the corrosive pessimism of failure and that we can never be better. Faith in Christ releases us from our morbid hopelessness and frees us to act confidently in this world:  ‘to boldly go’, as Star  Trekkers will remember, recklessly splitting infinitives and confidently changing  worlds –  hopefully for good: but beware that lust for power and colonial domination  to  which humans, seeking to be like God, are constantly prone!

In his typical paradoxical language, Luther put it this way in a letter to  George Spalatin, ‘Beware, my friend, of aspiring to such purity that you do not want to be classed as a sinner.  For Christ only dwells among sinners.’

‘God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above allure and authority and power and dominion’

Ephesians 1:20

Thought for the Day : Monday 19 April

Thought for the Day by Emma Temple (All Hallows’)

Reading: Deuteronomy 5:1-22

It feels like the last year has been defined by rules; stay at home, rule of six, hands face space, one metre plus. These sound bites capture tiny segments of ways we have been asked to love our neighbours in a totally new, uncertain, and dangerous time. It’s forced me to explore my relationship with rules, the ways in which they are helpful, and the ways in which they are hard.

In some ways rules have been comforting. Over the past few months of stay at home orders, I’ve found it much easier to know what is safe and what isn’t. Although the limits on our activities and distance from loved ones have been extraordinarily painful, we have simple and clear boundaries to keep us safe.

The recent lifting of restrictions has brought about mixed feelings for many of us. While I am so excited to be seeing friends and family again, the increased ambiguity of the easing rules makes me uneasy. The new rules leave more room for decisions which some might be more comfortable making than others. Freedom comes with the burden of choice – just because we can, does that mean we should?

Our Deuteronomy reading today tells the story of Moses receiving the ten commandments. These commandments set very clear and precise boundaries for the people of Israel which summed up the 613 laws contained in the previous scriptures. As clear as they are though, we humans still find ways to argue about their meaning; ‘Is it technically stealing if…’, ‘Does that really count as an idolatrous image if…’, ‘Surely we can still do that on the sabbath if…’ Our imperfect minds love to justify and interpret our way around laws, no matter how clear they are.

One of my favourite gospel passages is Jesus telling us that the laws can be summed up perfectly in one simple ask – that we love the Lord our God, and love our neighbour as ourself. The heart of all these laws is, simply, love.

If we focus on the letter of the law, there will always be technicalities and pitfalls. But if the heart of these laws is love, then all we need do is put that love at the centre of our lives and our actions, and let grace do the rest. Justin Welby says that the ten commandments ‘define the parameters beyond which love cannot exist.’

Jesus sets us free to live out of this love, to take risks and to live abundantly. Jesus even broke the laws of his religious community to act out of love for the people right in front of him. While this freedom still carries a burden of choice, we can feel safe in the knowledge that we are loved and always will be.

What is your relationship with rules?

How have you felt about restrictions easing this past week?

What does it look like when we centre our lives around love?

Sunday Worship 18 April 2021


Our service this morning was led by Heston and Catherine. Heston shared his thoughts with us on “Miriam – Propehetess and Sister” based on the picture in the central panel of the Leigh Russell Memorial Panel. You can read more about the panel on our website Heston took us on another excellent journey through time to explain the chaos that we see in our world and how God has overcome the “chaos monsters”!

Catherine shared with us some beautiful songs on the theme of how “God’s sacred intention” is to bring order, justice, joy, compassion and peace, to bring us out of darkness, endless night and chaos to a place of healing, a place of shelter – a house, a world “where love can dwell and all can safely live”.

After our service we met on Zoom for our APCM

Sunday 18 April 2021 – Miriam – Prophetess and Sister

On Sunday we will be looking at “Miriam – Prophetess and Sister” in the second of our series of services reflecting on the Leigh Russell Memorial Panel which hangs on the north wall of the church. Heston will be leading our service and our thoughts on Miriam. Our service will be streamed live on Facebook at 10:30am

After the service it will be our APCM – or Annual Parochial Church Meeting – or as Heston describes it, our “Annual Party for Church Members”. It is a chance to celebrate all the amazing things that have happened over the last year, to mourn over those things that have saddened us, to reflect on our part in them and to look forward to the next year. You can read our annual report here. The meeting will be hosted on Zoom, if you would like to join us please email Heston or leave a comment on this post.

Miriam – Prophetess and Sister

Thought for the Day : Friday 16 April

Thought for the Day by Malcolm Heath (St Michael’s)

Readings: Deuteronomy 4:15-31 and John 21:15-19

The following images are strictly forbidden: humans; animals; birds; reptiles; fish (Deuteronomy 4.15-18).

Thus ‘Moses’: that is, an anonymous theologian of (perhaps) the sixth century BC, who is interpreting the heritage of Moses for a new generation.

The theologian’s list of forbidden images may seem arbitrary. What harm can there be in having a statuette of (say) a cat on your mantlepiece?

In principle, none.

But among the surrounding cultures all these images (including, for example, cats)[1] were objects of religious reverence, as were the sun, moon and stars (4.19). In that cultural context, the porous boundary between ornament and cult-image had to be carefully monitored. Our theologian had good reason to warn against the tempting consequences of compromise: ‘the LORD your God is a devouring fire, a jealous God’ (4.24).

Yet that devouring, jealous fire is merciful. Though the people may forget their covenant with God, that covenant is ultimately grounded, not on human fickleness, but on the faithfulness of God: ‘because the LORD your God is a merciful God, He will neither abandon you nor destroy you. He will not forget the covenant with your ancestors that He swore to them’ (4.31).

Centuries later, in the crisis of Jesus’ arrest, Peter (whose name means ‘the Rock’!) repeatedly denied any allegiance to Jesus, and even any knowledge of him (John 15.17, 25, 27).

But God trumped Peter’s human fickleness. The risen Jesus invited seven of his followers to an impromptu fish breakfast on the shore of Galilee (21.1-14), and when they had finished their meal he subjected Peter to a painful challenge: his threefold denial was matched with a threefold test of his resolve (21.15-17). It is no surprise that ‘Peter felt hurt’ (21.17).

And then, a fourth, final and confirming test: would Peter’s resolve falter when faced with the prospect of crucifixion? He had seen with his own eyes what crucifixion meant. But Jesus did not need to wait for an answer: ‘follow me’ was his acknowledgement of Peter’s tacit assent (21.18). The fragility of Peter’s faith had been overcome by God’s steadfast faithfulness and mercy.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bastet

Thought for the Day : Thursday 15 April

Thought for the Day by Janet Lindley (All Hallows’)

Readings: Deuteronomy 4:1-14 and John 21:1-14

I’m going fishing.

Immediately an image forms in my mind. A lad from school days, picking up his fishing rod and tackle, heads down to the river. One of the ‘livelier’ kids at school spending hours in quiet by the Foss waiting for something to bite.  It was a bit of a mystery to me.

What do you see when you read these words? A country idyll with individuals sitting at intervals around a lake? Eel fishing on the quay in Whitby?  Trawlers heading out for their days catch (and livelihood)?

Though we might have ideas of peaceful tranquility, here in John we’re looking at the disciples returning to what they know, their fishing trade. Hard and uncertain, requiring skill and courage, a necessity for survival.

Our crew, the disciples, have been working all night with nothing to show for it. Lowering the nets, bringing them up, nothing – on repeat. Demoralised and hungry, wondering if they’d lost the knack after so long on the road with Jesus.  

All that time doing something they believed in, but back to square one and the fish. Where was the miracle now? There was no 5 barley loaves and 2 fishes and most importantly no Jesus to bless the lad’s pack up to feed the crowd.

Then a voice calls from the shore “the other side, put your nets on the other side”. Who was that? The bloody cheek of it, telling us what to do. We’ve already done that and what for? No fish today. Well, nothing ventured, we might as well.

Without warning the nets, well they were getting heavy…what’s going on?  Not a couple of tiddlers – the water teeming and the nets might break. Keep holding on, let’s bring this haul in.

Only one man stops, looking to the shore. Who was this man with the tip off?

A lightbulb moment – the stranger’s voice recognised. It is our friend. He was with us all along. The one we followed and loved but taken from us.  He’s here, well there at the water’s edge.

How many times is God speaking to us I wonder? At our desk or doing our work? A stranger’s voice speaks a word of wisdom or something to try? Could this be God with us?

One way might be through using a daily practice of examen. If you’ve not tried it before, Pray-as-you-go have audio recordings to help you recognise God with you: https://pray-as-you-go.org/player/prayer%20tools/youngadultexamen

Lord, help us recognise you in our lives.

Thought for the Day : Wednesday 14 April

Thought for the Day by Tim Ward (St Chad’s)

Readings: John 20:19-31 and Deuteronomy 3:18-end

“Life so full I give to you
As the father sends me so I send you
Spread my light throughout all life
Peace be with you”

These words conclude Adrian Snell’s Passion, his musical setting of the Easter Story.  Yesterday we heard from Clive Barrett how Mary Magdalene becomes the custodian of the Christian story and, in the words of Adrian Snell proclaim:-

“Brothers I have seen the Lord
I have seen a new day rise….”

Yet, the risen Christ she sees does not come onto the stage with a roll of drums,  and plenty of dry-ice.   He greets Mary Magdalen with her name “Mary” and entrusts her with the knowledge and joy of the resurrection. He walks with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. He answers Thomas’s doubts. Seeing the empty tomb and folded grave clothes helps the “Beloved Disciple” to believe’. On the other hand, as tomorrow’s reading will show, Jesus takes time by a charcoal fire to help Peter through his issues and guilt.

Thus, these personal encounters with the risen Jesus, are not for show: not an end, but a beginning.  They are not removing his disciples backstage but placing them  central to the plot, bringing life to the drama of world.  As John writes of his purpose in writing his gospel:

“But these things have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and that through your faith in him you may have life.”

In her Thought For The Day for Monday, Jan Betts reminded us of some earthly realities and tragedies, including the treatment of Alex Navalny in Russia, and of the protesters in Myanamar.  The world remains hard. Yet it is our concern. One way of engagement is through prayer. However, God’s turning down of Moses in the reading from Deuteronomy shows us this is not always easy, or sufficient.

It is not therefore about prayer alone we shape the drama.  Jesus comes us to individually, and urges to act collectively, as disciples, as the Church.  He knows the world is painful and gives us no magic wands. He does not though leave us alone.  It is comforting to remember Jesus’s words to the disciples

“Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I send you”

“Life so full I give to you
As the father sends me so I send you
Spread my light throughout all life
Peace be with you”